When I got my Golden Retriever, we expected that as part of growing up, he would hump things. Fortunately, it was directed at objects and not people or pets. However, after being neutered, I noticed he still humped objects occasionally, which made me wonder why Golden Retrievers hump things?
In general, Golden Retrievers hump to cope with high mental or emotional stimulation levels. Humping provides an outlet to deal with stress, anxiety, boredom, or excitement. The behavior can then become reinforced as a coping mechanism when the dog experiences those emotions.
While humping things can be embarrassing for pet owners, primarily when directed at other people, it is important to remember that it is natural for male and female dogs.
Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t understand that we feel it’s appropriate. It only knows that it’s a way to cope with what it’s feeling in the moment, and it has not learned that there is a better way.
Getting angry or punishing the dog is not the best response, and it can make things worse or cause other issues. So, in the ensuing discussion, we’ll look at humping in more detail and what can be done to address the issue.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Hump Things?
Usually, humping is an enjoyable physical coping mechanism that has become reinforced and habituated to deal with strong emotions. Of course, some dogs hump because it’s pleasing to the dog, as in masturbation. Still, again that is usually a response to excitement or other emotions.
Some believe it is a dominance or controlling behavior. However, dominance theory has been widely debunked, so I tend not to put much stock in that.
All dogs can hump – male or female, intact, neutered, or spayed. Big dogs and little dogs. It is not specific to gender, breed, or size.
And yes, humping can be for reproductive purposes for intact Golden Retrievers. However, it is not to be confused with a neutered Golden Retriever humping its blanket or non-reproductive humping.
The former makes little cute Golden puppies, while the latter is a coping mechanism. Not the same thing.
Non-reproductive humping is most often done in response to a strong feeling such as stress, anxiety, boredom, excitement, play, and yes, even joy or happiness. Or it is for attention, which is related to boredom.
Consider humans. How do we deal with those same emotions?
Often we’ll fidget, twirl our hair, tap our foot or finger, stroke our faces, bite our nails or play on our smartphones. We develop a physical response to deal with emotions, which then becomes habitual. Habitual as in we do it without evening knowing it.
Consider nail-biting as a physical response to stress and anxiety. It can be harmful to one’s nails and fingers and might be considered an inappropriate way to deal with stress. If not inappropriate, then at the very least not ideal.
Nevertheless, nail-biting for those that do it often becomes their go-to physical response to relieve stress or anxiety.
In much the same way, humping for a Golden Retriever is an intense physical behavior and outlet for stress, anxiety, or excitement. It provides an outlet that feels good while at the same time alleviating stress or dealing with some strong emotions.
What Are the Most Common Situations That Golden Retrievers Hump?
You can probably think of instances where you or someone you know physically responds to a stressful situation with a physical coping mechanism. Be it fidgeting, nail-biting, or foot tapping.
For example, I’m a foot-tapper, and I often fidget, such as crossing or uncrossing my legs, sprawling out, sitting up straight, and so forth.
There is usually a specific situation or time when your Golden Retriever will engage in humping behaviors. However, we often do not notice these “tells” to coin a phrase from poker players.
Typical situations for humping occur when:
- When someone comes for a visit – attention and excitement.
- When your Golden Retriever hasn’t been sufficiently exercised or mentally stimulated – attention and boredom.
- When your dog is stressed or anxious.
- Before, during, or after play.
- Dog-dog play.
- Dog-person play.
- Before walks – excitement.
- During puppyhood and adolescence – to be fair, this is primarily driven by powerful hormones – similar to a teen boy and long showers. It’s a natural part of growing up. Common yes, but I don’t consider it inappropriate.
- Medical issues – yes, there may be a medical cause such as an urinary tract infection, allegries or priapism. So, consult your vet if the humping is excessive to rule out any medical issues.
In the video below, dog trainer Mikkel Becker explains why dogs hump and how to deal with the behavior (I discuss tips to stop humping in more detail below).
Consider our Golden Retriever. He humped as a puppy at a specific time of day, with a particular object (blankets). He would get his second “wind” between 7 pm and 9 pm, or the puppy witching hour (or hours), as we call it.
It’s the time of the evening when he became very active again and wanted to play. However, we settled down as a family to watch TV during this time and did not want to engage with him in play.
So, Bailey was bored and excited – excited because the family was together but bored because we did not engage in play.
To alleviate that “energy” and to get attention, he did something as a puppy that was both natural and felt very good – he humped. For him, it was a win-win. Plus, it helped him expend energy and deal with intense emotions. Win-win-win.
Because BAR only humped his blankets and never people or pets, we never felt the need to untrain the behavior.
So, even today – after being neutered – he will briefly hump on days when he hasn’t been exercised, and he is bored and wants attention. For example, during our recent snap of cold winter, daytime temperatures were in the -22 to -40 Fahrenheit range, and outdoor exercise sessions were a no-go on these frigid temperatures.
So, what if the humping behavior occurs with people, or you simply want the behavior to stop. Is there something you can do?
How Do I Get My Golden Retriever To Stop Humping?
So, you have a Golden Retriever that humps when excited. Maybe it’s you or the kids, perhaps the visitors, or maybe the neighbor’s cat. You know what triggers the humping and why and now you want to know how you stop your Golden Retriever from humping.
As a general rule, to stop your Golden Retriever from humping, you must interrupt the behavior quickly before or after it starts and redirect the dog into a more appropriate behavior such as a sit or shake and then reward. The goal is to teach your dog that there are better options than humping.
To be clear, interrupting the behavior does not mean using aversives such as physical punishment, yelling, or punishing the dog. Instead, it means interrupting the behavior in a calm, controlled manner with the intent purpose of teaching your dog that the behavior is inappropriate.
Professional dog trainer Steffi Trott of Spirt Dog Training suggests the following.
- Interrupt the behavior immediately – not 10 or 20 seconds later. Once your Golden Retriever has engaged in humping, it has gotten its “fix,” so to speak, and it’s too late.
- You must be present when the dog engages in humping behavior. So, you need to know when it occurs, and you must be around to interrupt it. Which means for a period of time you will need consistently “shadow” your dog.
- Make sure your Golden is wearing its collar or harness.
- When your Golden Retriever begins humping something GENTLY, grab the collar and harness and guide the dog off the object. Notice the word GENTLY – the intent is not to hurt or cause discomfort.
- Calm the dog for a few seconds, and then redirect its energy into a training or play session or a command such as a sit.
- Reward the dog for the more appropriate behavior. The reward can be a treat, a toy, or some play.
I’d add a few additional tips as well.
The best time to address the behavior is before it happens.
If you notice the dog is about to hump something (remember, there are signals or “tells”) remove the object and redirect the dog’s attention to something else. For example, redirect the energy to a high-value toy, something to chew on, or a training session such as asking for a sit.
If the dog is humping during play, simply calm the dog for 30 to 60 seconds as a “time-out,” and then allow it to resume playing. The reward for stopping is it gets to play again.
Give your dog other “positive” options for alleviating its high emotional response other than humping. Remember, the dog is trying to get attention or relieve arousal by humping. Give it an alternate but positive outlet to do so.
When gently grabbing the collar and guiding the dog off its humping target, use the verbal marker of “nope.” Say it in a casual, calm manner. The word nope is a marker that teaches the dog that it is doing something you don’t like.
If you want an in-depth explanation of markers, I wrote a detailed article discussing markers and how effective they are as a training tool. You can find the article here: Golden Retriever Training: Using Markers.
Always stay calm and positive. There is NEVER a need to yell or punish your dog. Never.
Once your Golden Retriever has stopped humping, reward it with a treat. The purpose is to teach that humping is inappropriate and stopping is good.
The goal is to be consistent in interrupting and redirecting the humping behavior, so it eventually becomes extinct. Aptly, this is called extinction. And be advised that it may take some time for the behavior to become extinct.
The video below shows how to deal with humping. In it, the Bow Tie Vet Guy uses the sit command. However, in certain situations, you may find your Golden Retriever is so excited that he tunes you out.
In those instances, gently guide the dog off using the collar and redirect the behavior with a sit, toy, or reward.
The principles are always the same. Immediately stop the humping – either before or immediately when it starts – redirect to something else such as a sit or toy and reward.
Steffi Trott cautions not to expect the behavior to stop in one day, especially if it’s been going for some time.